State Mandates 56 Hour Work Weeks For Health Connect Workers

Dec 17, 2013

More than 100 employees working on the state’s health care exchange have been mandated by the state to work 56 hours per week through the end of the year, officials say.

“It’s our understanding through the employees that they were just last week mandated 56-hour weeks,” said Doug Gibson, a spokesman for the Vermont State Employees Association, a union representing state employees.

"We wouldn't do this unless we absolutely had to, but we do." - Human Resources Commissioner Kate Duffy

Gibson said multiple employees approached VSEA with concerns that they are being made to work 56-hour weeks on tasks they haven’t been adequately trained for.

According to Gibson and state Human Resources Commissioner Kate Duffy, the employees have been asked to enter data from the paper enrollment forms the state used when the health care exchange website wasn’t working properly.

Duffy said the state is working within the existing collective bargaining agreement with state employees and is compliant with the Fair Labor Standards Act. Still, she said, the situation is less than ideal.

“We wouldn’t do this unless we absolutely had to,” she said. “But we do.”

Gibson said the workers are not as concerned about the overtime hours as they are about their ability to perform the assigned tasks.  “They’re more upset because of the training, or the lack of training, to deal with the issue itself. They claim they don’t have the training they need to competently answer Vermonters’ questions about the application process.” 

Gibson said the employees are concerned that their data entry efforts will be sub-standard due to a lack of training.

“They also have issues about whether some of the applications they’ve been submitting are actually going to be accepted at the federal level, so there could be some issues there with rejection of applications because the employees simply didn’t know the correct way to do it,” Gibson said.

David Yacavone is commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, which is responsible for the paper forms. He said the 121 employees working mandatory overtime have been trained and will continue to be trained in the data entry.

"We just finished up a four-hour training session this afternoon," he said.  "And some people may need more training and we have ongoing training for this work, but it's like anything: The more you do it, the better you get at it, and folks are having plenty of opportunities to work at it."

Yacavone said the state is making good progress on the forms, which are still coming in to his department. He said he doesn't know how many may still come in.

Duffy said the collective bargaining agreement does give the state the right to mandate long work hours in order “to manage these kinds of situations.”

According to Gibson, the workers have requested a meeting with Secretary of Human Services Doug Racine.

Some managers have been accommodating with employees who had holiday travel plans or other time off requests, Gibson said, “but still people are living under this 56-hour mandate, and they’re not happy about it.”